When the weekend rolls around, there’s only one place Reemberto Rodriguez wants to be: Silver Spring.
“Last Sunday was the Ivory Coast Festival,” said Rodriguez, a 15-year Silver Spring resident who happens to be the director of the Silver Spring Center Regional Center. “The Latin Heritage Festival, the Jerk & Barbecue Festival, the Harvest Moon Festival, the Ethiopian Festival, the Maker Faire — every Sunday there are festivals here that bring over 2,000 to 10,000 people to downtown.
“Weekend after weekend: Tell me again, why would I want to go to Virginia, Georgia, Florida? No! We want to stay here and hang out. We love this place.”
So you know where Rodriguez will be on Sunday, Aug. 24, when Silver Spring’s 16th annual Jazz Festival comes roaring back into town with returning headliner Arturo Sandoval, hometown hero Marcus Johnson, the Eric Byrd Trio, Paul Carr and the Real Jazz Ambassadors plus a host of young, talented locals performing on two stages. He’ll be there on Veterans Plaza along with thousands of fellow jazz fans, who will walk, metro or drive into town with lawn chairs and picnic baskets, ready to receive the groove — and enjoy the shops and restaurants of a revitalized Silver Spring.
“It’s very popular with the community,” said Elizabeth Gallauresi, the festival’s Arts & Entertainment District Coordinator. “We do have, in the Silver Spring Arts & Entertainment District, a festival almost every weekend, from May to the end of October, and the majority of them do have a musical component.”
But the Silver Spring Jazz Festival is all about the music — and this year, it’s all about the family, being held the weekend before Labor Day, a sort of end-of-the-summer celebration before school starts.
The Jazz Festival, Gallauresi noted, tends to bring in a crowd that’s a little older, a little more mellow — although, “for Arturo Sandoval, for Latin jazz, the crowd will be more lively. He’s an incredibly good musician.”
Sandoval has headlined once before, back in 2007 — Gallauresi’s “favorite year” — and she said that this is a particularly good time to have Sandoval back. “He has such a great immigrant story,” she said. “He’s a fabulous musician who immigrated to this country, and to me, his story is incredibly important and hopeful, in a time when we’re not as welcoming to immigrants as we are to other populations.”
Sandoval was born in Artemesia, Cuba, a little town outside of Havana, in 1949. While growing up, he studied classical trumpet, and as a young musician, he met the jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie, who had been the first musician to bring Latin influences into American jazz. Gillespie took on Sandoval as his protégé, and was pivotal in helping Sandoval and his family defect and emigrate to the United States. Sandoval acknowledged Gillespie as his hero — and once here he won four Grammy Awards, six Billboard Awards and an Emmy Award for his composing work on a movie based on his life, starring Andy Garcia.
Now a tenured professor at Florida International University, he performs all over the world, with students, classical and jazz orchestras, and pop artists like Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys.
Rodriguez, who saw Sandoval headline the Silver Spring Jazz Festival in 2007, has his own story of fleeing Cuba. “I came in the mid-‘60s,” he recalled. “My parents sent me and my brother because of a complex web of personal and political reasons.”
His mother, as it happened, was an American citizen; she and her husband stayed behind in Cuba, though, only reuniting with their sons “a couple of decades later.” (Let that sink in.)
And while Rodriguez and his wife, a scientist, settled near family in Atlanta, they moved to Silver Spring in 2004, “literally by happenstance,” as he put it. “I did a little research, saw the amazing stuff that was happening in Silver Spring, and said, ‘I want to be part of that!’
“It worked out for both of us: We picked up, and our two sons and our dog, and we never looked back. We love it!”
For Rodriguez, living in and working for Silver Spring is as good as it gets — and having Sandoval back at the Jazz Festival is the cherry on top. “We’re not here to compete with big three-day festivals,” he said, pointing out that the second stage will give young local talent an opportunity to perform. “Frankly, I’ve got to thank the Filmore for helping us quickly find someone of this high caliber; and of course, we’re bringing back Marcus Johnson. He’s a staple of the festival, and rightfully so. He’s just an amazing asset to this community.”
Festival city: From May through October, nearly every weekend offers a festival in downtown Silver Spring. The Silver Spring Jazz Festival is a favorite.
Photo credit: Ken Stanek
A community that gets put in the spotlight during the festival, and loves it there. “Our goal is to highlight Silver Spring for what it is,” said Rodriguez proudly. “An immigrant community, with a strong African American presence — and to have that mix is pretty darn ideal. To have Marcus Johnson, this amazing local hero, who has always been here for us and has accomplished so much, and Arturo Sandoval, with his beautiful immigrant story — he ended up in the United States because Dizzy Gillespie helped him.”
A lot of people helped Silver Spring, too, Rodriguez is quick to point out. “I speak of them as I speak of any elder, if you will: folks who have gone before, people we owe everything to.” He remembers when, during Silver Spring’s revitalization, a key question was: ‘How do we bring people to downtown?’
In those days, when a major investment from the county revitalized the core of the town, the small businesses all around that core fought to do their part to stay and thrive in the vibrant new landscape. That was around the time he got involved, Rodriguez said, attending countless meetings and sessions; watching small business owners and residents fight a mall, and retain their uniqueness and diversity; and learning to “navigate the quilt that is Silver Spring’s culture.
“They said, ‘We need something, we need to make noise.’ And a jazz festival was born. Marcus said, ‘I’ll play!’ so from day one, we had some super-quality folks coming in, from the audience to the performers. We had some really cool stuff, and every headliner since has been good.”
Back then, he pointed out, Silver Spring needed to make some noise to be noticed. The Jazz Festival is part of that legacy, but Rodriguez is gleeful about how much his adopted city has grown. “Back when the jazz festival started it was all about creating crowds,” he said. “Now it’s about controlling crowds! We considered that, and we decided to do a more modest, less extravagant, more community minded event to affirm what we’re doing in Silver Spring, create opportunities for economic development, for the restaurants, the small businesses.”
Rodriguez said he and the event’s planners are hoping to get a good, family-oriented crowd, to show Silver Spring for the vibrant community it’s become. “As the years have gone by, every Sunday, there’s a festival here,” he said “The American Film Institute, not a month goes by that they don’t have a quality film festival. The cuisine here has grown to be world-renowned — our Ethiopian cuisine, and food from every-which-where!
“We just say, ‘Come on down, come, enjoy your community!’ It’s the last weekend before Labor Day, it’s a stay-cation. Let’s make this a community-centered event that confirms the amazing diverse community we have: all ages, all hues, all economic strata. Let’s just be us.”
The 16th Annual Silver Spring Jazz Festival will take place from 3 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 24 at One Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring. Admission is free. For details, visit www.silverspringdowntown.com/silver-spring-jazz-festival.